These are the rules, folks. Love 'em or leave 'em. And to be sure, you can leave 'em. In this edition, we'll separate the myth from the reality surrounding the Old Fashioned Cocktail.
An Old Fashioned cocktail consists of bourbon or rye whiskey, sugar, bitters, and maybe a few drops of water. Full stop. Don’t mess with the recipe by adding fruit. And if you absolutely must add an orange slice, for crying out loud don’t muddle it!
True, the spare, fruit-free version might well be the original Old Fashioned Cocktail recipe...possibly the original cocktail, which dates to the mid-19th century. Back then, the cocktail was an elixir; often a morning restorative, calling for "spirits" (not exclusively whiskey), plus bitters and a little sugar to help the medicine go down.
Times change, though. Tastes, too. Take The Sazerac; it was originally made with cognac. Today it’s widely understood to be a rye whiskey cocktail. Similarly, today's Old Fashioned is not generally considered morning's medicine.
So go ahead, give your Old Fashioned the full fruit cocktail treatment, if you like. And mash away at it, if that’s your preference. And if you have no fear of the Cocktail Police, you might even splash some soda water in there to lengthen (though not strengthen) your Old Fashioned Cocktail. Or do none of the above.
Me? I'm not a muddler. I cut a sugar cube in half (because like a cat, I've lost the taste for sweet stuff), shake Angostura bitters over it, add about a teaspoon of water, mash the bitters-and-water-soaked cube, pour in 2 generous ounces of bourbon or rye, add some cracked ice, half a slice of orange, and two (because three seems gluttonous) maraschino cherries.
Incidentally, that's not how Don Draper does it. But just as James Bond offends martini truthers with his shaken vodka martinis, Don Draper gives Old Fashioned fanatics conniptions. His twice-spoiled version features muddled orange slice and soda water. But he seems to enjoy it. And so does Conrad Hilton if this scene where Don Draper mixes him an Old Fashioned at the club is any indication.
Of course, each of the above versions contradicts the original Paleo Old Fashioned Cocktail, whose recipe paleoanthropologists recently discovered buried in an old cave somewhere.